Thanksgiving's Worst Calorie Bombs: What to Skip and Where to Splurge

Thanksgiving dinner: eat this, not that. (Photo: Corbis)How many calories does it take to induce the average American's Thanksgiving food coma? About 4,500—that's what the Calorie Control Council estimates most of us consume during our annual holiday feast. If you aren't up to speed on daily calorie allowances, the average adult requires only about half that number spread over a whole day. You won't put on a significant amount of weight eating one humungous meal, but you will stress your digestive system and feel bloated, groggy, and maybe even nauseated.

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The irony is, many of the components of a Thanksgiving meal are actually very nutritious and not especially high in calories: turkey, vegetables, salads, fall fruits. "Food is meant to be enjoyed," Angela Lemond, RDN, national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, tells Yahoo Shine. "You can make your meal smarter and not sacrifice flavor." Lemond likes to use healthy fats like olive oil, experiment with bright-tasting herbs and spices to add flavor, and mix lots of colorful diced vegetables into her classic bread stuffing to give it a nutritional boost. Hosts can offer a variety of appetizers and side dishes to let guests have plenty of choices, or ask guests to pitch in with a healthy option.

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With a few tweaks, you can still enjoy an indulgent, satisfying, and delicious meal without going, shall we say, hog wild. Here are the biggest calorie bombs per serving and lighter alternatives—if you made all these swaps, you would save more than 4,000 calories.

Skip: Mixed Nuts (442 calories per half cup)

Splurge: Shrimp Cocktail (183 calories per cup)

Skip Mashed Potatoes With Cream and Butter (305 calories per 3/4 cup)

Splurge: Roast Potatoes With Olive Oil and Herbs (141 calories per 2/3 cup)

Skip: Green Bean Casserole (375 calories per cup)

Splurge: Green Beans With Caramelized Onions and Walnuts (131 calories per 3/4 cup)

Skip: Creamed Onions (328 calories per 3/4 cup)

Splurge: Sauteed Brussels Sprouts (100 calories per 3/4 cup)

Skip: Candied Sweet Potatoes (587 calories per 2/3 cup)

Splurge: Roasted Sweet Potatoes (96 calories per 1/2 cup)

Skip: Turkey with Gravy (71 calories per 1/2 cup) and Sausage Stuffing (610 calories per cup)

Splurge: Turkey With Fresh Cranberry Sauce (40 calories per 1/4 cup)

Skip: Chocolate Pecan Pie With Whipped Cream (850 calories per 1/8 whole pie)

Splurge: Pumpkin Pie (316 calories per 1/8 whole pie)

If you don't usually cook and eat as a family, Lemond sees Thanksgiving as the perfect day to launch that routine. "My 6- and 9-year-olds are really excited to get into the kitchen with me." She also points out that going on a fun run, playing a traditional game of touch football, or even taking a brisk stroll will help "even out the energy balance."

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